Thursday, August 04, 2022

Moving from intent to content: ‘Fit for purpose’ communication

Over the years, I have conducted these freewheeling sessions across different geographies - whether pan India, US, UK, Central Asia or Africa - from the scenic town called Horley near London to a sleepy village called Nakuru in Nairobi, from the Mount prospect locality near downtown Chicago to the central business district of Almaty, Kazakhstan, from the pious landmark of Rishikesh to the tribal pockets of Meghalaya, and from the Haddo market area of Port Blair to the awesome terrain of Alangar in Karnataka - for diverse target groups - whether MNCs or SMEs, PSUs or NGOs, kids or housewives, salaried or self employed, contractors or workers, children of plush societies or urchins from slum pockets...

The workshops conducted for deprived sections are delivered free of cost. 

Some of the popular workshops and modules:

Poetry of Mathematics and the science of languages

From Classroom to Workplace: managing the academia-industry transition

Learning beyond the confines of Arts, Science and Commerce

Learning through Music, Literature, Films & Theatre

Probing the Child's mind: No child's play

Decoding gender sensitivity, financial literacy, career planning, and life & language skills

Why get better at communication? 

o A brief on communication challenges of the ‘playground’ called Workplace

o What is Fit for Purpose communication and how it helps? 

Cutting across cultures: Camaraderie beyond comfort zones 

• The Pivotal Role of Language, History and philosophy in cross-culture communication
• Edward Hall’s concept of low-context and high-context communication
• Persuasion and assertion in a multi-cultural scenario – I, we and us.
• Managing a global team: Consensus stems from cultural relativity
• How to become a culture catalyst – going beyond acceptance and tolerance
• Interactive discussion on interesting specifics of cultural contexts – American, European, Asian 

Thanks to the arid, bureaucratic mechanisms of conventional NGO bodies, proletariat activists and CSR practitioners across the globe, social responsibility, knowingly and unknowingly, has come to harbor several blatant assumptions about the larger cause of end-beneficiaries (often generically slotted as ‘target groups’ or ‘deprived’ communities) Conveniently overlooked in the process is the plain fact that their deprivation is only circumstantial and in no way indicative of the instinctive and intellectual capacities inherent within the community. Contrary to popular perception, the supply-side forces, in the mad rush to emancipate the downtrodden, are themselves found deprived when it comes to even reading the minds of the audience, leave alone identifying its needs,. In peddling their jargon-heavy black and white prescriptions on financial prudence and general well being, they are knowingly and unknowingly oblivious of the expressions of playful amusement and suppressed yawns that the so-called ‘deprived’ reserve for the seemingly ‘privileged’ - - stemming more from doubt than disbelief. 

As always, members of the audience, across all age groups, often surprise you with occasional quips and counter questions that help you learn more than you seek to teach. The more you interact with them, the more you marvel at the depth of their instinctive knowledge, fertile imagination and the zeal to become willful change agents. We are more than sure some of them will become change architects of global credence in good time. Here’re only a few of the lingering echoes:

One bright school girl from Devarjan, a tiny hamlet near Latur in Maharashtra, had a simple argument “Why doesn’t the government simply print more notes to eradicate poverty?” All effort to elucidate the consequent vicious chain of increased spends, demand-supply gaps and soaring prices didn’t seem to impress her. We wished to hold a special session exclusively for her post the session. Unfortunately, the unbelievably wooden and pompous school authorities seemed hardly bothered which was really sad.

A differently abled adolescent, who had accompanied his mother to one session held in conjunction with Don Bosco Technical Institute Kurla, proved a much better listener than most of the other ‘normal’ participants. His sheer effort to get involved, often urging others to be attentive, was truly a moving experience.  

Chinmay Bidarkar, standard VIII student of Sri Ravi Shankar school, Latur impressed one and all with his mathematical genius, solving compound interest problems with effortless authority and yet strikingly unassuming in his replies. Clearly a great Indian mathematician in the making!

Ujjwala from Sawantwadi and Deepak from Jharkhand, astoundingly mature for their age of 16 and 18 years, proactively articulated the value of communication in their own words.  

Pranjal Garg of Kendriya Vidyalaya, Rishikesh, Amit Kumar Singh of Port Blair Kendriya Vidyalaya, Anjali A R, Naveen T, K Venugopal and A Santosh of Kendriya Vidyalaya Adoor were among the sterling scorers in the quiz held in schools all over India. 

Ms. Varsha Dixit, a key official of the Thane Municipal Corporation showed exceptional vision and extended all help in organizing offbeat communication skill workshops for the corporation staff. Similar sessions have been planned for the Safai Kaamgars on stress management and financial literacy.

Sharada, Anagha, Geeta, Savita and Varsha, all enthusiastic lady entrepreneurs, actively participated in an innovative role play enactment during a Don Bosco session at Borivali, realistically simulating a loan proposal meeting with a bank official and summarizing the learning for the benefit of the audience.

Mr. Chandrasekhar Burande, noted architect and citizen activist, took the lead in successfully organizing IIFL workshops in the schools and colleges of Latur, Devarjan and Udgir.

Ms. Sonali Kulkarni, Principal, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar School Latur and Mr. Amarr Prabhu, Principal, Don Bosco Technical Institute, Kurla – both young and dynamic achievers have raised the bar for their noble profession with their untiring and selfless devotion to the larger cause of their institutions.  

Ravi, serving staff member from Goa’s Tourism Development Resort in Miramar; Raju, Vada pav vendor from Varangaon near Jalgaon; Giri, auto rickshaw driver from Pon Nagar, Pondicherry; Rai, an ever-smiling steward from a hotel in Shillong’s Polo Ground area; Joshiji, a PSU employee from Rishikesh; Nishigandha, a health and hygiene activist from Thane’s Manorama Nagar; Dinesh, a clerk from Alangar, Mudbidri in Karnataka, Sandeep, a local vendor from Belgaum in Maharashtra, Alex, a transport business agent from Pune - all showed exceptional leadership qualities in assembling their respective communities in real quick time for short sessions on value-added communication.

Kalwa Pipeline case study

But the most satisfying of all initiatives till date was the theatrical intervention exercise we did with the children of Kalwa Pipe Line, a discarded slum pocket of Kalwa, Thane’s neighboring suburb. Their slum is adjoining a pipeline and hence the name. Ironically enough, proximity to the pipeline has done little to solve their recurring water scarcity problems which continue unabated. But their inventive reconciliation with reality and their ingenuity to work around it amidst the despondency and disappointment is a wonder story beyond words.  

Meet the Kalwa Pipeline champions of change: Asif, aged 11, is one of the most vocal and vociferous social activists we have ever met. A pocket-sized dynamo, he is a born leader when it comes to enforcing discipline and urging his peers to stay focused during the life and language skills workshop for ‘jyada se jyada fayda’ (maximum gains) as he succinctly puts it. Arif, Asif’s elder brother aged 20 works as a scavenger and runs errands for money but has now taken the lead in explaining the value of money to the community. Chandni, a child laborer, a promising girl of 16, now provides coaching to little children in dance and music, Sonali, 17, explains the virtues of small savings to ignorant adults and Afreen, 18, has taken upon herself to teach English to her folks. And last but not the least, thanks to Santoshi, a housemaid of over 35, who got all these kids together at her matchbox place for the sessions as also the slum theatre experiment. The kids, who obviously had no prior experience of public speaking, went on to deliver a hard hitting satire called “Jhagde pe jhagda” (squabble upon squabble) in the vast auditorium of Thane Municipal Corporation following rigorous practice in a short span of time. Today, almost all of their long standing problems yet remain unanswered but the new-found vigor from the slum theatre and financial literacy experiment has made them even more determined to fight all odds with greater resolve. 

Of all things, they are now extra vigilant about saving money for productive purposes like quality food and essential household utilities and constantly check their fascination for things they don’t need but long for, thanks to tempting TV ads and peer pressure.  


Sunday, July 31, 2022

In Conversation with filmmaker Sanal Kumar Sasidharan

It is unfair to talk of only one film given his perceptive work across different backdrops and motifs. Yet, his film Ozhivu Divasathe Kali never lets you lose focus on its Dhruv-like place of pride in world cinema. Based on Unni R's short story, Ozhivu .... is a matter-of-fact depiction of social hypocrisies and political undercurrents that seep through seemingly playful happenings and interactions, rising above the surface of an inorganically engineered calm at the slightest provocation amid conducive circumstances.        

On the face of it, five friends - Dharman, Vinayan, Thirumeni, Ashokan, and Dasan - let themselves loose in the serene environs of a ramshackle country guesthouse on a rainswept election day, relishing several rounds of alcohol, a sumptuous meal of jackfruit, chicken curry, and pickle, and a series of lewd attempts to 'woo' the lady cook hired for the ocassion. The influential Dharman is the quintessential aggressor armed with a feudal mindset, Vinayan is seemingly the voice of the underdog, Thirumeni is a Brahmin who wants to have all the fun without losing even an ounce of his high-caste sancitity, Ashokan is an opportunist with hardcoded notions about life and its ways, and the good natured Dasan is the team's dark-skinned companion, more of a man Friday than a friend. In the course of time, the banter between the five embraces all 'booze-time' pet topics with open arms - landmark political events, the coitus dynamic, cherished hallmarks of manliness and feminity, casteist slurs et al. Deep-rooted resentments come to the fore and tempers run high, but they are tamed just in time for more booze and a childhood game with adult improvizations to break the growing monotony. 

It is this game that has the staple hirearchies seamlessly fall in place through ingenious arrangements, mirroring the facade, fallacies, and fatalites of our democracy. The game has the Dalit friend - all along the object of ridicule and a picture of servitude - pay the price both in life and death. However, the fag-end gruesome act is only metaphorically convincing, not logically; one wonders how and why should the four end up claiming the life of the vulnerable fifth, however inebirated they may have been, and however ingrained their feudal and predatory instincts may have been. If it was meant to be an accident, it hardly looks like one; the foursome effort looks very much a conscious act to claim the life of Dasan, the low-caste protagonist, which appears highly ludicrous, given the physical strength of the latter. The brutal kick that one of them lands on Dasan's body immediately following the game's verdict had already created the desired impact on screen. The end would have seemed more plausible had the director shown one of the four, probably the Brahmin Thirumeni, throwing in a word of caution at the eleventh hour, in line with his meek and hypocritical ways, and the rest of the three yet persisting with their lunancy under the influence of alcohol. The death can only be justified cinematically as an act in the heat of the moment, which surely demanded a better build up than what is shown to us. This loose end, however, takes nothing away from the enduring significance of this masterpiece motion picture of astute direction, awesome cinematography, optimal music, intelligent editing, and last but not the least, splendid performances by all players. 

The poignant frame of Dasan rendering a rustic impression of the famous Oglala Laokota verse "When I'm born I'm black, when I grow up I'm black, when I'm in the sun I'm black, when I'm sick I'm black, when I die I'm black" is one pivotal point in the film. Even as Dasan gives vent to his emotions, none of the others including the pseudo secular Vianyan lends a listening ear. That pretty much sums up the sorry state of our democratic affairs in one stroke.   

 Meet Sanal Kumar Sasidharan, the maker of Ozhivu Divasathe Kali who graciously agreed to an interaction with me on the film, as also his incredible life story and cinematic trials and triumphs. 

From Zoology and Law to filmmaking, your career strides are themselves very cinematic. Could you share the highpoints of this exciting voyage?


That is an interesting question. The trigger for this tortuous journey was the tug-of-war between the circumstances in which I was born and brought up and my dream of  'cinema' that was indigestible to those around me. I was born in a very poor family background. My childhood was full of sicknesses which aggravated the economic hurdles inherent in the family. My illness, from polio to liver inflammation, and the hospitalizations for treatment, left my father exhausted. By the time I was 8-9 years old, my father got a government job and our living conditions improved. But my childhood dream of making films was not something that my parents could digest. They wanted to me to become a doctor. But somehow the desire for cinema deeply penetrated my heart. In our village there was a C class theatre named 'Geetha'. Though our family's financial conditions were bad, my father was a cinephile and he regularly took us to see movies. Maybe that's how the affinity with cinema grew within me. But from the day I revealed my desire to become a film-maker to my father, a fight began between us. The gap between my father's desire to see me as a doctor and my desire to become a film-maker was indescribable. I couldn't take a leap directly into my dream. That's the reason why I got into cinema through the circuitous route of zoology and law and many other things. After finishing my school, I had decided that my path is cinema, but my father was adamant that I should become a doctor, so I was compelled to choose science group for pre-degree. When I failed the medical entrance exam, I took up Zoology for graduation due to my interest in Biology. My father also agreed for that because he thought that I will be able to write medical entrance after graduation in Zoology. But while studying, I was intensely trying to become an assistant director. Unfortunately all my attempts to get into films as an assistant to some film directors also failed.  Every one dismissed my passion for cinema as an adolescent swagger.  At that time, I read in some magazine that Mammootty stepped into cinema with the reputation of being a lawyer. Suddenly I felt that I should become a lawyer first and gather some reputation. Ever since I can remember, I have had this urge to finally make it into cinema. But I soon realized that my assumption that becoming a lawyer would convince directors to engage me as an assistant, was also wrong. That's how I formed a film society called 'Kazha' with my friends and made a short film under its umbrella, and thus set foot on my dream. The idea of making my first short film titled “Athisayalokam” with people's contribution was triggered by the biography of John Abraham that I had read in my college days.



Your filmography deserves comprehensive coverage but I can't help focusing on one gem in particular: Ozhivu Divasathe Kali.  


"Ozhivudivasathe Kali" is my second film. My first film 'Oralpokkam' was actually the most difficult film for me to execute. The first film is the biggest challenge for any film-maker. I approached many people with the stories in my mind, but no one came forward to make it into a film. When I got tired of writing many screenplays and talking to many people, I came up with the idea of making my first film as a crowd-funded one. Although it was very difficult, “Orallpokkam” was completed well. But I had to face huge struggle to get the film watched. Most of the contributors were holding a leftist ideology and somebody started a propaganda that my film is projecting right wing ideas. Hence, even those who contributed for the film initially ignored it. But fortunately the film came into life after it won the Netpac and FIPRESCI awards at IFFK. Once “Oraalppokkam” was noticed I started get some positive vibes that it is not difficult for me to do a second film. A few well-known actors and producers hinted their interest to do a film with me if there is a good story suiting them. However, I was interested in making independent films with lesser-known actors on a very small budget as I believed that my aim was not a star-centric commercial cinema. 

I had read Unni R’s story long ago. Although it is a very short story, I felt that some of the deep thoughts hidden between its lines and settings can be presented more starkly if it is made into a film. When I told this story to Shaji Mathew, who was the production partner of the movie "Orallpokkam", he said that he can produce it. It required a budget of less than ten lakh rupees. I could see the title of the story "Ozhivudivasathe Kali" (a game on an off-day) and the game of lotts in its content as related to the game of elections in our democratic setup. Therefore, I decided to set the film as a story that takes place on an election day. That is how the shooting started in the last days of the by-election campaign at place called Aruvikkara. The search for the film's prime location began days after the election campaign was shot. Nistar Ahmed, who played the role of Dharman in the film, was an officer of the Water Authority. He is the one who took me to the guest house near Peppara Dam which became the prime location of the movie. In fact, the film is fully formed in my mind only after reaching that location. In all my films, the scenes are perfected by using the possibilities of the location, but in this film, it can be said that the location itself guided the film.

Actors also joined the film almost in the same way. I am someone who doesn't like to look at acting as technical art. I believe that all human beings act in one way or another in life. Presenting one person to another is essentially acting. In all interactions one's emotional state is presented to another. I think all human beings are good actors because it is a continuous process in life. It is with this perspective that I choose the actors for the film. So casting is a relatively easy process for me. I have a feeling that if a person comes in front of me with a look that I have in mind, I can extract good acting from him. So most of the actors in the off day game were either newbies or had not much acting experience. All are friends or brought by friends.

Almost the entire crew of the technical department of 'Ozhivudhivasthe Kali' was the same people from the movie 'Orallpokkam'. Indrajith who handled the camera, Sandeep Kurishery and Jiji Joseph who did the sound recording, Basil CJ who did the music and Murugan who was the art director were all there. Unlike 'Oralpokkum', the film did not face any financial difficulties as it had a producer.

The film's construction consisted of a lot of single-shots, so there were some technical hurdles we had to sort out. Entire second half of the film is conceived as a single shot. It is about 43 minutes long second half. Our camera did not allow us to shoot for 43 minutes at a stretch. Therefore, we shot that portion in pieces and stitched together. Basically what was meant by single-shot was that the emotional flow of the film should not be interrupted by cuts. We managed to do it that way but there were a lot of problems due to the small scale production setup and technical limitations. I tried to make good use of such limitations to supplement my idea about the structure of this film. I had the vision of making the audience feel that 'this is not a movie' and it worked well.


Is the film loosely based on the short story, or is it a mirror-image adaptation, loyal to the story end to end? 

There is a lot of difference between my movie and the short story by Unni R. It was a revelation that came to my mind when I read the short story first that it is possible to read it as a critical reflection of the election politics in the democratic system. Perhaps what stands out in the short story and the film is Dalit politics and the predominant display of patriarchy. 

But I felt that at the crux of the story is the question of how silly is our approach to the election process of our rulers, which is the most important thing in a democratic society and an insightful hint to were we are heading in consequence. That's all I took from that story. But as that is the soul of the story, that is also the soul of the film. All external elements of the film are different from the story. The location, characters, incidents, everything is different. 


Apart from your astute direction and wonderful acting by all players, the offbeat Canon 1 DC-powered cinematography and minimal background score (esp. the poignant strings in the tragic fag-end scene) leave one postively intrigued about many larger truths of life that are by choice kept under wraps.  

Indrajith , who handled the camera for my first film 'Oralpokkam', did the same for 'Ozhivudhivasthe Kali'. 'Oralpokkam' was Indrajith's first film. As I mentioned earlier, I had a vision from the very beginning that ‘Ozhivudivasathe Kali’ should not feel like a film to the audience, despite the film's plot and artistic touches. It was decided that the camera should be more of an observer than a tool and act as the lazy viewer's eyes. The result is the offbeat cinematography you mentioned. Basil CJ, who composed the background music for 'Orallpokkum', also composed the music for 'Ozhivudayasthe Kali'. Basil also started his film journey with 'Orallpokkam'. He has taken a very different approach in this film from the music in 'Oralpokkam'. Background music is used only in three places in this film. Basil's music has the quality of overflowing suppressed emotions. He has managed to make the intense shock at the end of the slow progression of the story tenfold effective. 


You clearly believe in minimal edits as is evident from the indulgent camera in Ozhivu... where every scene comes alive as naturally as possible. Could you elaborate on the trials and triumphs of your adopted style? How easy or difficult is it to put into practice? 

I have said that my basic idea was to shoot and show life without editing in the movie 'Ozhivudhivasthe Kali'. But it is not that easy. No matter how hard you try, the acting becomes dramatic or at least cinematic. Shooting film like life can be quite a challenge, even if you take care to minimize cinematic efforts with the camera. After watching “Ozhivudivasathe Kali”, many people criticized it saying that 'it is not a movie'. They accused us of simply leaving the camera open for a while and recording something rubbish around. I felt that was a great compliment to me. 

People reacted so, because such an approach has not been seen much in Malayalam cinema. But slowly they probed deep into its soul. For the approach taken in this film to be successful, the first thing that was necessary was for the actors to completely forget the camera. The knowledge that they were being shot brought the technical acting into them, albeit unconsciously. Due to this mess, all the visuals shot in the first four to five days were scrapped. But as the day went by, all the actors and technicians caught the rhythm of the film. The entire second half of the film was shot in a single day. A single take almost for every scene!


Which among  your other films are closest to your heart? Are there any that did not please the maker in you?

All the movies I have done so far are my favourites. There are those that have been released, those that have won awards, those that have not been released and those that no one has seen. I have done only seven films so far. Of which Ozhivudivasathe Kali, Sexy Durga and Chola got some attention and viewers. Death of Insane, Kayattam and Vazhakk are not yet released. I feel that making films is a subconscious spiritual activity in my case. Therefore, I am not one to claim that these are my creations. The decisions I make while shooting are very intuitive. They cannot be considered rational. I often feel that the weather changes and confluences of events during the shoot work like magic in favour of the making process. My films are a coming together of all these logically unexplainable things. Therefore, it is not right to say that “I” created it. It is probably fair to say that each of my films has changed me a little. If you want, you can say that my films made me. So an objective review of my films is not possible for me.

Any film makers - Indian and International - that you admire?

Until I came to Thiruvananthapuram city to study law, I never got to see any of the art films in theatres that I wished to see. None of the films I have seen from Geetha Theater have influenced me as a maker. During my childhood, Doordarshan used to show national award-winning films on Sundays at 11 am. There were movies of Adoor and Aravindan in it. They got me hooked to art cinema initially. It was from IFFK that I started watching my favourite kind of films in my kind of making patterns while studying in Thiruvananthapuram Law College. Polish director Kieslowski's films have influenced me a lot. Michael Haneke's films have also penetrated deep into the subconscious. Tarkovsky's films pervade my mind like poems whose lyrics have been forgotten.


What is your take on mainstream cinema in India? 

We had an indie film festival running parallel to IFFK for few years when I was working at Kazhcha film society. I used to watch a lot of movies from across all languages for its selection. I haven't been watching movies much lately. It is because of my inconvenient physical reality through which I am travelling now. So I am very ignorant about what is happening in the current cinema. Every now and then, when I notices any discussion about a new movement in the independent cinema, I try to watch it out of curiosity to know what it is. Sometimes I also watch movies sent by my friends. I know people may misunderstand me as arrogant when I say this. But not watching cinema is not something to be claimed proudly. I mentioned it only because you asked this question.


How do you view the OTT space? 

I envision a movie as something where a lot of people sit together in a space and watch it on a big screen. There is a very big difference between OTT and theatre. While theatre represents the breadth of a community in which you have no option to pause and fast forward, OTT is a narrow, private space with your own remote control over the cinema. In theatre Cinema controls you and in OTT you control cinema. But in today's scenario, no one can rule out the potential of OTT. Due to some recent developments in my life, I have decided not to do films for the time being. If I ever resume making movies, it's unlikely to be for OTT.


Going forward, what are your plans and priorities? 


Some scandalous rumours have been spread against me for the last two years which have also been used to suppress my films. I presumed this was the outcome of my open personal opinions on political issues. But later I realized that was not the point. I sense an attack on my films from a mafia ruling the Malayalam commercial cinema industry. It was from the time I made the film 'Karyam' that the moves started targeting me personally and my films as a whole. A few months ago, I was arrested in a false case of allegedly harassing the actress in Kayattam by proposing to her. Although the conspiracies behind it are very clear, and I have filed several complaints seeking an investigation, none of them are being investigated because of the strong nexus between the powers-that-be and the film industry mafia. Given the circumstances, I have made a decision that I will not do any more films until the charges against me are proved false.

Photo credits: Sanal Kumar Sasidharan

Wednesday, July 06, 2022

Sahir for all seasons

Filmfare revisits the iconic poet Sahir Ludhianvi |

तेरी दुनिया मे जीने से
तो बेहतर हैं की मर जाए
वही आंसू, वही आहें 
वही ग़म है जिधर जाएँ 

कोई तो ऐसा घर होता
जहां से प्यार मिल जाता
वही बेगाने चेहरे हैं
जहाँ पहुँचे जिधर 

अरे ओ आसमान वाले
बता इसमें बुरा क्या हैं
खुशी के चार झोके गर
इधर से भी गुज़र 

Since ages, this song has left me enthralled every time I have tuned into it. S D Burman's soothing music and Hemantda's candid voice make it special no doubt, but its immortality stems from the timeless verse of Abdul Hayee, who was best known by his pen name of Sahir Ludhianvi. 

On the face of it, this is a soulful number in the guise of a playful number picturised on Dev Anand and Kalpana Kartik from the 1955 film House No.44, but it has a deep philosophical undercurrent, typical of Sahir. Way beyond what the screen footage implies, 'तेरी दुनिया मे जीने से' is better read as the poetry of the eternal non-conformist, who seeks true love and comradeship, who can't make pretense to some faint meaning, who raises difficult questions rather than settle for easy answers.     

Sahir's probing lyrics were labelled "bitter" simply because they were not centered on love, beauty, and other pet themes of Bollywood. They thrived on the periphery instead, voicing the angst of those who refuse to be part of the grand 'orchestration' that defends hypocrisy and mediocrity in all forms. It is no surpise that even in its 75th year of independence, India doesn't have an answer to Sahir's plea wrapped in a clarion call from the iconic 'Pyasa' 

ये सदियों से बेख़ौफ़ सहमी सी गलियां
ये मसली हुई अधखिली ज़र्द कलियाँ
ये बिकती हुई खोखली रगरलियाँ
जिन्हें नाज़ है हिन्द पर वो कहाँ है
कहाँ है

Having said that, we do have an answer to the question "जिन्हें नाज़ है हिन्द पर वो कहाँ है"  They are right up there, where Sahir Ludhianvi now rests, or given his wont, where Sahir Ludhianvi is now restless! 

Sunday, June 05, 2022

In conversation with Manoj Badale, renowned Venture Capitalist and owner of IPL franchise Rajasthan Royals

IPL 2022: After IPL auction, Rajasthan Royals owner Manoj Badale said |

"People can always find time for charity work if they really want to, and I have learnt as much from charity work as from any other strand of our business activity"

Manoj Badale, 54, hardly needs any introduction. He is the co-founder of the VC firm Blenheim Chalcot, and works as the Chairman of the British Asian Trust. He is also the lead owner of the Rajasthan Royals, the franchise made immortal by leg spin legend Shane Warne. He has also co-authored 'A New Innings', a book on the business of sport.

Having said that, what sets him apart from the rest of the IPL team owners is his delightfully inspiring accesssbility, the hallmark of all visionary founders. RR couldn't have asked for a better owner than Manoj and much credit goes to his style of leadership for RR’s impressive run this season, as also the astute picks during auctions. With a visionary owner like him, unassuming maestros like Buttler and Boult, and the timeless icon that Shane Warne is, the team deserved to bag the trophy this season. 

We hope the management will now attend to areas they have been merrily overlooking all these years. Also, a honest and humble plea to the management: please do something about this irreversible disorder called Riyan Parag; he behaves like the owner-cum-coach-cum-captain of the franchise, and needs immediate medical attention to save the team from the fatal blows of the contagion effect. 

Unassuming champions like Buttler and Boult deserve better company. Talking of Sanju, he is a talented, reckless batsman but nothing more; how long is he going to be cherished as the leader that he is not? Last but not the least, high time the social media team of RR grew up. They must shun their absolutely childish attempts at wit and wisdom that do great harm to the cocoon of the franchise. 

Here’s wishing them every success next season. 

It took me only a couple of email exchanges to establish a rapport with Manoj. Needless to say, all credit goes to him for quickly absorbing the 'agenda-free' nature of my interest in his life and work, as also my heartfelt suggestion of an freewheeling conversation with him.

Excerpts from the conversation in Q&A format:

Your roots are in Dhule, Maharashtra. Do you retain any memories of the place?  


I left Dhule as a baby. My father was completing a masters at Imperial, and evetually got a job in the UK. My mum, aged 20, speaking no English, joined him and so did I. My sister stayed behind with my grandparents.



Was Economics your favourite subject? What was your childhood dream career? 


I didn’t have any particular career ambitions, but I was, like all good Marwaris, pretty focused on making money! Economics seemed like a good choice to help kick start my ambition rooted in financial wisdom, but little did I know how little it actually teaches you about the ‘real world’!


How and when did you decide to move to the UK? Was it via the path of education or you already had a base there?


As mentioned earlier, it wasn’t my decision, but that of my parents. They, like all Indian parents, made huge sacrifices to provide the best possible education for my sister and I, but we ended up growing up in two different parts of the world, in two different cultures and in two different education systems. She was always more academically gifted, and more disciplined.


Could you share your memories as a student of the University of Cambridge? 


University is a very formative period of any person’s life. You grow up a great deal! Cambridge, and Emmanuel College, was an amazing experience and a very rounded one; whereas now the focus is so much more academic. The most powerful aspect of the learning experience is unquestionably the diversity and quality of your peer group. It was a privilege to be in such enlightened company, and I am still in touch with many of my mates!


How was your career trajectory, in terms of the first job or venture and formative career switches?    


I went into strategy consulting, a decision based on the experience of a peer of mine, as also the career prospects. It seemed like a great place to learn as it provided an astounding diversity of training. I was surrounded by incredible people of strategic acumen including bosses and peers. I was fortunate that Monitor Company was then in the growth phase, which gave me the opportunity to shoulder the highest responsibility very early in life, most significantly the chance to lead the company's strides in India in the year 1995. My first client was Indian Aluminium (Indal), and my wife, Katie, and I lived in Kolkatta, Mumbai and Delhi.


You have a super track record of grooming companies, taking them to scale, and making timely exits - Fluency, Eviivo, Steeltrace, Rights... 


I have been very fortunate to strike up a good business partnership with Charles Mindenhall on the strong foundation of our complementary skills. I am not sure that we set about to be tech entrepreneurs, but 1998 was a fortunate time to start building internet-related companies. Timing is always important, and we have learnt and developed our own ‘venture building’ playbook over time. We haven’t changed much about what we do; it is just that the scale of many of these companies has swelled over time. With 4,000 people and 20 companies, we have a supple and scalable platform, and we continue to incubate and build new technology businesses.



How you do tread the different roles at Blenheim Chalcot,  Emerging Media, The British Asian Trust,  Prince’s Charities Events Ltd and  Operation Smile UK.?


Charles and I have both been active with our respective charities for many years. The reality is that our ‘venture building’ skills are highly relevant to ‘charity building’ and it has been a privilege to get the chance to work with some of the best philanthropists in the world. People can always find time for charity work if they really want to, and I have learnt as much from charity work as from any other strand of our business activity.


How and when did you decide to acquire an IPL team? How has been the experience till date?  


We had been investing in cricket since 2006 – acquiring the commercial rights to Leicestershire, launching the televised talent hunt 'Cricket Star', and staging the first Champions League of 2020. All of these ventures were far from success stories, but they helped us build  relationships with key people at the BCCI. When the league was launched, we were invited to bid for a franchise, which we did after careful due diligence. It has been a fascinating roller coaster of a journey, with umpteen ‘highs’ and ‘lows’, but the learning has been immense. I am deeply involved and emotionally invested in the franchise, and we are also building an outstanding management team.


Despite your multiple interests, you seem to maintain a rather low profile by choice. How would you describe yourself as a person and a professional?


I don’t think you can make specific choices about your profile, and as a lead owner of an IPL team, it is impossible to avoid media exposure! We are always keen to promote the profile of our businesses, rather than the people that lead them. How I would describe me? Ambitious, and still learning new things every day.


What are the key plans and aspirations going forward?


It would be nice if our businesses fulfilled their potential. And it would be nice to win another IPL trophy!


Your hobbies, pastimes and passion areas...


With three kids, a busy work life and an equally busy social life, there isn’t much time for pastimes, although golfing and skiing are probably the two favourites. 

Wednesday, May 18, 2022

D D Kosambi: Looking back on those who claim to known the legend better than the best

D. D. Kosambi - Home | Facebook

Sometime back, I had the opportunity to interview a professor who has authored a book on D D Kosambi's selected works in mathematics and statistics.

En route the pleasentaries, I presumed he was a congenial scholar willing to share his humble perspectives on DDK; right or wrong was besides the point! Half way through his 'high and mighty' replies to the questions, I realised our friend is on an ego trip of sorts, trying to stamp his authority with conclusive claims. We can ignore all of that, had he done the least in DDK's honour: a cost effective price for his book on DDK's works. But alas, here too we have to face a big disappoitment to match the book's whopping price. 

I have no quarrel with our learned friend's views - he has evey right to feel what he feels - but the condescending tone of his answers and the disdainful attitude (of ignoring a few questions and cutting off the conversation abruptly without any intimation whatsoever) left a bad taste.

Thank God there are several good resources on DDK that cherish him with all his plusses and minuses! And the best resource to appreciate the mathematical genius of DDK is DDK himself. None like him!

Monday, May 02, 2022

Sri Ramana Mandiram, Madurai

Finally, I visited the shrine that had occupied my imagination ever since I learnt about Ramana Maharshi from Chittaranjan Naik: noted Advaitic scholar and well known IT professional. It was surely not a coincidence that this long-pending visit happened just at the time I took to reading Oxford scholar, towering thinker, and prolific writer Arthur Osborne's profound work "For Those With Little Dust", easily one of the best books on the Maharshi's life and work. Midway through Osborne's incisive notes, editorials, and poems, I don't know how and why I had the sudden urge to visit Sri Ramana Mandiram, Madurai, the place where Sri Ramana had his first experience of the Self. 

So, I set about the mission and was blessed with many priceless moments of silent contemplation. 

With no sign boards in place to guide first-timers, the search was not optimal but indeed befitting the nature of my quest. The place is located in a shabby by-lane near the South gate of the famous Meenakshi Amman temple. The photographs tell the whole story on the outside. 

I deliberatly skipped clicking snaps of the Mandiram shirne, as also the room upstairs where 17-year old Ramana had a spiritual experience that paved the way for his unique self-enquiry, taking him to Mt. Arunachala, his majestic abode for the rest of his life. A snap can never convey the feel of the place which can only be experienced first-hand. One encounters the same bliss that the Ashram Hall in Tiruvannamalai provides, but without the din of the crowds that throng the latter. 

Madurai is home to what should ideally be revered as one of India's most cherished landmarks. Sadly, the rather squalid town with a glorious history has itself forgotten Ramana, so one can't expect much from the rest of the country. 

Wednesday, February 23, 2022

Talent begets Talent

Things about Sherlock Holmes' author you never would have guessed | The  Times of India8 Lessons from Sherlock Holmes for Product Teams and Product People | by  Kyle Evans | Product by Design | Medium

The more you look for them, the more you find the most exquisite hidden gems in the writings of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the real brain behind the cultivated brain of the one and only Sherlock Holmes.

Just when I was pondering deep over the growing leadership crisis in the best of Indian business groups across diverse sectors and spheres, one line stayed with me in the course of a re-read of "The Valley of Fear"

“Mediocrity knows nothing higher than itself; but talent instantly recognizes genius.” 

This truism is so close to the Sanskrit maxim: विद्वानेव विजानाति विद्वज्जनपरिश्रमम् |

Only the learned and truly wise can comprehend the hardships endured by another wise person

The vaccum of sorts that has gripped many of the legendary business houses, thanks largely to the poor succession planning, has its roots in the way founders think about growing their organizations. Many among them feel it is all right to be a great visionary and leave the execution to the next rung. While it is undertstandable that a person is born with special traits - some are great at envisioning the big picture while others excel at driving the intricacies of execution -  it takes a holistic approach at the top to ensure that the core team is made up of extraordinary talent and temperament - else, the organization loses its value proposition the moment the founder loosens his or her grip in chasing the greener pastures of a more idyllic life.

Focusing on micro issues seems a needless exercise for many founders and leaders but they grossly overlook the fact the micro feeds into the macro faster than they think. For a learning organization, talent begets talent across all levels and the founder must be deeply interested in measuring the traction at each level - else mediocrity finds ingenious ways to spread itself and soon becomes the defining character of the enterprise. Consequently, good talent is demotivated to the point of calling it quits in frustration while the bad apples reign supreme, singing praises of the powers-that-be and making life difficult for the competent and conscientious. The loser is the organization as also the founder who built it in the first place, brick by brick, click by click. Talent begets talent provided it is allowed to take root and gain ground.  

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